For the most part, my quilting hobby is fun, especially the t-shirt quilt commissions. I love the look on someone’s face (usually a sneaky mom who smuggled shirts to me) when they see those shirts made into a quilt their senior will take to college. But sometimes the quilt commissions can take a more somber tone. Sometimes I’m tasked with a commission to make a memory quilt from clothes from a loved one that has passed on. I’ve made memory quilts from clothes of both deceased younger and older folks, and it’s a profound task, preserving memories of someone else’s loved one.
My first t-shirt quilts were from my father’s clothes, and they showed me the healing power of a memory quilt. My father died unexpectedly, and I had a lot of anger mixed in with my grief. It was an anger that I didn’t know what to do with, and I felt powerless to confront. And then my grandmother told me I’d be making four t-shirt quilts for myself, her, and my two other sisters. And it was in the making of these that I found a degree of peace and finally felt like I could say goodbye. Clothes are probably the hardest part of a loved one to reliquish. We remember what they looked like in them, which ones they favored, and they even smell like that person for a long time afterwards.
I was nervous when I made a memory quilt for someone outside of my own family. It was for a young man who had passed away from cancer. I remember gulping a bit as I finished up the design process and was ready to make those initial cuts into the shirts. Again, the idea of preserving those memories for someone else is daunting. So I prayed. I placed my hand on the bags of clothes and prayed for guidance, peace for the grieving family, and the ability to do that person’s memory justice. Whenever I have a quilt that has a similar back story, I take the time to pray beforehand, asking for the same guidance.
I thought I would share that prayer with you all in case you find yourself faced with a similar challenge. Feel free to use, adjust, or change as needed.
“Heavenly Father, I pray your guidance as I make this quilt. Please guide my hands that I may do justice to this person’s memory. May this quilt bring their family comfort in their grief and remind them of more joyful times. In your name I pray, amen.”
Empty bobbins are moments in life where we pause and reflect. It’s like when your bobbin runs out in the middle of a project, and you have to pause everything you’re doing to reload. Here’s one such reflective moment. This is a recollection on how small moments can have unforeseen effects.
Our story begins in July of 2000. I had just gotten on to the campus of Berry College for my freshman orientation, and I was excited to be spending the next four years on this gorgeous campus. Berry College has what’s known as “The Berry Bubble” where the outside world seems to get cut off, and our sense of community was so strong we could go back to older ways now considered dangerous, liking giving rides to other students when we didn’t necessarily know one another yet.
I guess that bubble-effect is immediate because I slowed down and offered a lone guy, clearly a new freshman like myself, a ride to the buildings where orientation was to begin. It was July, after all, and even in the Appalachian foothills the heat was profound. His name was Jonathan, and we spent the rest of that afternoon chatting and getting acquainted with the campus and our peers.
The first week of classes, he was still about the only guy I knew on campus, and my roommate had met him, too, so she and I decided to be brave and visit Jonathan over at the boys’ dorm. I’ll admit, the boys’ dorm was a unique experience, and before my college years were up I’d have a lot of memories there – some innocent and some not: my first time getting intoxicated (1 of 3 times in my entire life), my first D&D game, realizing I’d forgotten a music performance there, staying up all night watching movies in the lobby, and even learning how to do a 3 point haircut. But it all began with that first trip to visit a friend.
My roommate and I ventured up to that top floor, reserved for freshman, and found Jonathan’s room, door wide open to anyone who wanted to stop by. That’s Jonathan to a tee – open, friendly, and one of the nicest people I know. He still is, by the way. Top-notch dude. There I also met his roommate, and it wasn’t long before that roommate and I started talking. But that relationship didn’t last much longer than our freshman year, and it was definitely for the best. One good thing that came out of all this was that I met his friends, affectionately known as the computer kids. You see, I was a music major, a group notoriously close knit and always nose-deep in a practice room. I didn’t have a lot of the same classes as these guys because of rehearsals and private lessons. Most of my core classes were early in the morning – not so for them and anyone else who could manage it.
I met the computer kids, and through them, my junior year, I started going to a LARP (Live Action Role Play). Yes, it’s geeky. If you’re judging and raising an eyebrow right now, then you have permission to go and step on the nearest Lego. I got the last laugh, as you’ll see by the end.
Anyhow, through this LARP I met some of the most wonderful people who are my dearest friends to this day. These friends decided that I would make a good match with a guy named Herb. So they told a white lie on one side and a white lie on the other, and eventually he and I went on our first date. I had just gotten out of an engagement and had no interest in dating, and he wasn’t “on the hunt” for a girlfriend. That meant it really was the perfect scenario because neither of us was feeling pressured or pressuring the other. It was a relationship built on a foundation of not being too serious or pushy, and that has become a trend with us. This kept our wedding from turning into something other than a celebration and union (no stress or over-the-top displays), and holidays are pretty fun because we don’t get too wrapped up in the presentation of it all. And we’ve kept that same idea throughout our marriage (10 years and counting) –never take yourself too seriously. Always be able to sit back, breathe, and laugh about it and about yourself. Fourteen years since our first date, ten years since our marriage, two children, two cats, a dog, and a house later – I’m still head over heels for this tall, bearded guy who surprises me with sour gummies when he goes to the store.
It’s funny how life works, though. I always wonder how my life would be if I hadn’t stopped that day back in July of 2000 to give Jonathan a ride.
The boy and I decided to get some mommy-son pictures made, and I wanted to bring something that was important to both of us. So I brought the Star Wars quilt I made him. This was the prototype for the other Star Wars quilts I made.
I like how they turned out. Miles over at Portrait Innovations did a great job!
Empty bobbins are moments in life where we pause and reflect. It’s like when your bobbin runs out in the middle of a project, and you have to pause everything you’re doing to reload. Here’s one such reflective moment.
Mr. S’s Love
Years ago, my kids and I were walking around the curve in our previous neighborhood, which is mostly retired people, when I waved to two older gentlemen talking in a front yard. Their conversation ended as we passed, and one man, now referred to as Mr. S, walked over to say hello to us. We all said hello, and I pointed to our house. He said he remembered when we moved in that we didn’t have kids. I made a comment about no adult supervision, and then he asked if the kids liked candy.
Was it mean that I immediately thought he was going to offer us a Werther’s Original hard candy?
I mentioned we had enough Easter candy, but he seemed eager, so I finally capitulated and accepted his offer of some mints and chocolate covered raisins. And I do love some chocolate covered raisins. He invited us up to the house.
I’d noticed his house before. It was newer and looked very nice and quaint from the outside. It was certainly in a different league from my 1978 doodoo brown ranch house. He opened a side door into the kitchen, and we walked in. (I’ll add I wasn’t too worried about safety as Mr. S lived alone and was 86 years old. Pretty sure I could take him if need be.) Here’s where the moment became more than just candy and mints.
You see, Mr. S was a widower, a fact he shared with me as we entered the house. He said his wife had passed away about six years ago, and they had been married for 56 years. He said, “When you’ve been married for that long, you kinda get used to one another.” I know our younger family reminds our older neighbors of that period in their lives sometimes, so I smiled and figured that seeing me with my 3 year old and 1 year old reminded him of his own family. But later he informed me they had no children.
And then, he proceeded to show off the house. He said his wife had had it built, and that she had passed not long after it was finished. He commented, “She built me a house and then left me” more than once. He mentioned her constantly, too. At times, it even sounded like he was fussing at her for leaving him, but in a good-natured way.
I’ll admit it – the house was perfect. It was just what I would have designed for myself: wainscoting, high ceilings, large kitchen, sun porch, butler’s pantry – elegant but not pretentious. He showed us all around the bottom floor, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I mean, yes, the house was gorgeous, but we’d come over for candy and mints. I hadn’t commented on the house much at all. Certainly not enough to warrant a tour.
As we walked, I saw pictures of his wife were everywhere. There were pictures of her when she was younger at the early part of their marriage all the way to gray haired dame. And yet, she still didn’t look “old” at the most recent picture I saw. The house looked very sophisticated and decorated, and I figured it hadn’t changed much since she’d gotten it set the way she wanted. And then it hit me as to why we were getting a tour.
Mr. S was proud of his wife. He was bragging on her, even six years after she’d died he was still beaming with pride. Every detail of the house was attributed her good taste and ability. I’d never met Mrs. S, but her presence was everywhere in that home. If I had walked in without Mr. S there to narrate, I’d have assumed she was still very much alive. The house just felt…complete. It didn’t feel like an 86 year old widower lived there. That house was just as much Mrs. S’s today as it was 6 years ago when it was finished in time for her to pass on.
I suppose it’s a good thing that Mr. and Mrs. S had gotten used to each other after all that time because it’s clear she isn’t leaving him any time soon.
Of course, this was several years ago. I have since learned of Mr. S’s own passing. And while it was sad to know that such a kindly old man wouldn’t be waving at us from his yard anymore or offering mints and chocolate covered raisins, I couldn’t help but smile a little because I knew he was finally back with Mrs. S.
This quilt is 100% made from fabric, thread, and batting I had on hand. One quiet Friday night I came across some cutesy Asian-themed fabric from a previous project, and I decided to make something of it with the goal of using only fabric I had on hand. I had a secondary goal of completing the top that very night.
The fabric was cute, but it didn’t lend itself well to being simply cut into regular squares. The little girl images would have been halved or missing parts. So I cut as many whole ones out as I could, resulting in just six squares – much less than I thought. But that was alright because I had plenty of colors to accentuate, and I had planned on having a good deal of white fabric as the background.
The piecing of this little top was akin to putting together a puzzle, but I eventually did it. I was happy to use up some of my fabric stash as well as create a cute and whimsical top. I already had a feeling what I was going to do with the top if it came out as I hoped.
When I first designed it, I only had the main part with the white background, and I was…whelmed. I just didn’t love it, and I wasn’t used to that. I posted a picture on a quilting group, asking for advice, and everyone pretty much said the same thing – a border. Well, I had pink and yellow aplenty still at this point, so I decided on two colors to ensure everything was tied together nicely. And the group was right! Once I added the borders it did look better.
The backing was the same story as the original Asian fabric – I bought way too much for a different project. In fact, I had so much of it that it sufficed for a backing! That meant I had at least four yards of lime green fabric lying around. Yeek! I was glad for a chance to put it to use.
I ended up going with a variegated pink thread for the quilting.
In the end, I was glad I added the borders, and I had a quilt I was fairly proud of. I ended up donating it to my children’s preschool’s silent auction. I did get a chance to see it back in January at a birthday party, and the mother told me it was holding up very well.
This quilt goes down as one of the most emotional quilts I’ve done. For starters, I was asked to complete it by another quilter, so I felt like it needed to be perfect. Another consideration was the fact that it was a memory quilt in memory of a younger person. I’d done memory quilts before, and it wasn’t the first one I’d made for a mother. But this one felt different, and I wanted more than anything to do the lady’s memory justice. After all, I remembered her memorial service because I volunteered to help in the church nursery while it was going on.
Some things that stood out, however, were that my normal medium was gone. This was not a standard t-shirt quilt. In fact, there wasn’t a single t-shirt in any of the bags of clothes I was given! But what I DID have was dress clothes. Clothes with cool textures. Clothes with beautiful embroidery. Clothes with unique colors. So I sat on the quilt idea and wondered what to do.
The mother, being a quilter, had suggested something akin to a “crazy quilt” style, but none of the patterns or images I found online seemed to be exactly right. I looked around and must have seen 100 different ideas on how a crazy quilt can look. And then one morning during my shower, where I do my best thinking, I thought of the 101st crazy quilt pattern!
Here’s the premise. The lady was an artist. Artists are all about color and balance and placement. So I would make a sort of art gallery out of her clothes. I would help to emphasize the “gallery” part by adding a shadowbox element to each of the sections. This would also allow all her different colors, textures, and details to be featured.
I started by going through the clothes. I’d just gotten a new/old dining table to use as a craft table. It was in my garage, so I stood there that night, listening to the chirping of crickets, at peace, sorting the clothes into the different color stacks. I had enough for eight different color panels. That left one empty block. Then I had an idea I hoped would work for the last block.
Since she was an artist, and this was her gallery, I went through her old Facebook posts until I found exactly what I’d hoped to find – her artwork! There’s some debate on whether the picture is a self-portrait or Tori Amos. She wasn’t exactly distant comparison. It was one of the few pieces I found, and I downloaded it immediately.
Now that I knew how many stacks I had and how many blocks I could make, I sent the mother a draft layout. We worked and switched a couple of color sections, and then I got the green light to start cutting.
One of the first ones I did was red. I’d been told she loved red; it was her favorite color. So it seemed natural to begin here. After that, I got better at my blocks and was able to knock out the other seven faster than I anticipated.
A close up of the pink square.
After that, I enlarged the artwork and used two pieces of fabric paper to print it out. It was still smaller than I needed, so I added a red border to make it the same size as the other panels and began piecing the top together.
I added the shadow boxes and was happy to see them coming together. It wasn’t long before I was able to send her a picture of the completed top.
Now the next challenge was with the quilting. I thought long and hard about doing a simple stipple pattern, but then I had another idea. I decided to revive the circle-swirl quilting pattern because I wanted to add some whimsy to it. I also didn’t want to distract from the clothing panels, so I kept the main part of the quilting to the white area. I used the dreaded “invisible thread” to reinforce the clothing panels and make sure they didn’t shift or bubble up. (Imagine trying to sew with fishing line and you’ll understand why this kind of thread is a last resort.)
We went back and forth on the backing and finally settled on a black, white, and red pattern. From there, I had to complete the last element – but maybe the most important. I had to make the label. That took some thinking because I didn’t want it to be a let down. I remembered that the mother was happy I’d chosen to focus on colors because her daughter’s memorial service featured a homily from a friend who described her in terms of color. I loved it and was startled because, as said before, I wasn’t at the actual service. I was in the nursery.
Keeping that in mind, I asked for a copy of the friend’s homily. I used phrases and created a label based on that. Now the lady’s sister deals in graphics, so she worked her magic and made my original label look far better.
I printed the label on fabric and sewed it to the back corner.
This quilt was a long journey, filled with emotion. But it was also filled with creativity and pushed me to new limits. In many ways, the artist from whom it was made inspired it, and I feel like she had a hand in its making. In the end, it was and remains an honor to have been tasked with making this. It is one of my favorite and proudest works.
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